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Love Buster

This Lovecraftian space monster, (Uchuu Kaiju 宇宙怪獣), is from GAINAX's influential 1980s OVA series Gunbuster (Top o Nerae! トップをねらえ!, "Aim for the Top!") which I just finished watching through again, interestingly juxtaposed with reading about the current controversy surrounding the use of H.P. Lovecraft's likeness for the World Fantasy Award. Lovecraft's well known racism has recently struck some as making his an inappropriate face for an award reflecting a racially and culturally diverse community. So there was some irony in watching a Japanese series so obviously influenced by Lovecraft, as a great many Japanese manga and anime are. Based on his writings about the inhabitants of New York's Chinatown, one might infer Lovecraft would not approve of artists from an Asian country drawing influence from him.

One might infer it, though not conclusively affirm it. After all, Lovecraft is dead and can't be reached for comment.

I first heard about this controversy through Billy Martin's Facebook who in mentioning it said he found himself leaning slightly towards the side asking for the removal of Lovecraft's image from the award statuette because perhaps the most prominent advocate of keeping the award as is, S.T. Joshi, has presented his argument in a vitriolic, patronising manner in his blog, replete with aspersions cast on the research abilities of Laura Miller of that are ad hominem--they may not be purely ad hominem since the research capabilities of one presenting the argument that Lovecraft was a racist and therefore an inappropriate symbol for the World Fantasy Award are certainly a salient issue. Though Joshi provides no real evidence that Miller has never read Joshi's rightfully well respected biography of Lovecraft or set foot in a library.

It is worth noting, though, that Joshi supports his arguments with quotes from Lovecraft, something Miller does not do. I am inclined to agree with Joshi that Miller has probably not researched the issue adequately to make an interesting comment on Lovecraft's racism, though I think Miller's article is more about the place a revered author who is also a racist has in the artistic community rather than debating the specifics of Lovecraft's racism. She does point out that just because an artist created brilliant work doesn't mean he or she was a person who did not possess terribly ugly views.

Since it's easy, as Joshi does with Raymond Chandler, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, and several others, to take almost any writer of the past and find something that renders him or her an unfit example for a community that values inclusivity, I don't find the issue particularly worth debating but I think exploring the subject as it relates to the influence racism had on Lovecraft's work has potential to provide valuable insight.

This blog entry by World Fantasy Award recipient Nnedi Okorafer more directly pursues some aspects of the issue. She quotes the Lovecraft poem that first truly made her uncomfortable with having a small bust of H.P. Lovecraft her shelf, written by Lovecraft in 1912:

On the Creation of Niggers (1912)
by H. P. Lovecraft

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

It's an ugly poem and a very immature one. In writings from a few years later that exhibit Lovecraft's racism, his 1926 short story "He", for example, his views on race manifest in his descriptions of people and places that he establishes in the interest of telling a more impressionistic story. Take this paragraph from near the beginning:

But success and happiness were not to be. Garish daylight shewed only squalor and alienage and the noxious elephantiasis of climbing, spreading stone where the moon had hinted of loveliness and elder magic; and the throngs of people that seethed through the flume-like streets were squat, swarthy strangers with hardened faces and narrow eyes, shrewd strangers without dreams and without kinship to the scenes about them, who could never mean aught to a blue-eyed man of the old folk, with the love of fair green lanes and white New England village steeples in his heart.

The focus here is on the protagonist's impression of New York's immigrant population and how they relate to his feelings rather than an attempt to ascribe an absolute value on the people. By contrast, what he saw as the objective reality of race is the point of his 1912 poem and it seems like something puerile one might see written on a public bathroom stall. Lovecraft was twenty two in 1912 and it's worth noting that most of the works for which he is appreciated to-day were written in his late thirties and early forties. Okorafor also includes this block quote from Science Fiction author China Mielville:

“Yes, indeed, the depth and viciousness of Lovecraft’s racism is known to me …It goes further, in my opinion, than ‘merely’ *being* a racist - I follow Michel Houellebecq (in this and in no other arena!) in thinking that Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred. As Houellebecq said, it is racism itself that raises in Lovecraft a ‘poetic trance’. He was a bilious anti-semite (though one who married a Jew, because, if you please, he granted that she was ‘assimilated’), and if you read stories like ‘The Horror at Red Hook’, the bile you will see towards people of colour, of all kinds (with particular sneering contempt for African Americans unless they were suitably Polite and therefore were patricianly granted the soubriquet ‘Negro’) and the mixed communities of New York and, above all (surprise surprise - Public Enemy were right) ‘miscegenation’ are extended and toxic.”

It's strange and perhaps reflects ignorance on Mieville's part that he points to the word "Negro" as derogatory when in fact it was the politically correct term for black men and women in Lovecraft's time. I think it's worth noting, too, that Mielville also considers J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings an essentially racist screed so allow that to influence your opinion of Mielville's judgement as it may. But I actually agree that a lot of Lovecraft's work, even some of his best work, was motivated by a racist perspective.

At bottom, the issue here seems to me about the the difference between Dionysian and Apollonian forms of artistic expression. To say that readers want to believe their favourite authors are essentially saints only scratches the surface of the real popular error which, I believe, is the idea that artists are in complete conscious control of what they create. As the filmmaker Luis Bunuel said when asked how he'd live if there were only twenty years left in his life, "Give me two hours a day of activity, and I'll take the other 22 in dreams -- provided I can remember them." For Bunuel, like many artists, including Lovecraft, dreams were an invaluable source of creative force because they were manifestations of concepts and imagery unfettered by analysis. Compare Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo with his later film Marnie. While he tackles similar issues in both films, Vertigo remains a masterpiece while Marnie is hampered by dated thoughts on psychology. Vertigo remains interpretable and successfully says things which Hitchcock likely did not consciously intend considering the more literal arguments of Marnie seem to stand in direct opposition to some artistically made in Vertigo, such as the right to control men have over women. This is a belief that Vertigo arguably makes look harmful to both parties while Marnie seems to endorse it.

While I wouldn't express it the way Miller quotes one individual as saying, "If his racism was necessary for him to create those brilliant works of art, than [sic] thank god for his racism", in a sense Lovecraft's racism is partly responsible for the existence of his really good works. As Miller says--without explaining it or providing examples to back it up--"the loathing he directed at others was a deflected form of self-hatred." I would say this reaches a culmination in The Shadow Over Innsmouth where racial characteristics that inspired revulsion in Lovecraft are finally applied to himself.

As Oscar Wilde said, "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." Whatever Lovecraft's opinions on race were near the end of his relatively short life, his art improved as it became more about his horror than about other people. His strength as an artist manifested when he abandoned analysis and embraced explorations of mood.

However, Miller has the opposite view:

If there was ever a writer who should not be taken too seriously, it’s this one. Although Lovecraft’s stated theme — the terror of confronting the insignificance of humanity in an unfeeling, unthinking universe — is as heavy as it gets, the latent content of carnal, particularly sexual, revulsion often threatens to take over. The oozing goo, the primordial squids! Whatever Lovecraft thought he was doing, he wasn’t big on self-awareness, or else he’d have been Beckett. Freud and his theories of repression and sublimation become impossible to resist when you’re tracing this author’s energy to its source — that is, to all the stuff Lovecraft was avoiding thinking about while allegedly facing the unthinkable. This is what makes his fiction go.

She does not explain what it is about Samuel Beckett's writing that reflects a greater degree of self-analysis than Lovecraft's or what it is that makes Beckett comparable to Lovecraft. As for not taking Lovecraft seriously, the very fact that the World Fantasy Award bears his likeness suggests something about his influence and, despite Miller's inability or unwillingness to see it as more than camp, Lovecraft has an influence worldwide, as far away as Japan. His influence has a scope few authors can lay claim to, to the point where there are few works in Science Fiction or Horror nowadays that do not exhibit some measure of Lovecraft influence and it's more than tentacles or aliens. Lovecraft pioneered horror based on a hateful or unfeeling cosmos where biology was a constant and intimate threat. To say Lovecraft is not to be taken seriously is to say Horror is not to be taken seriously.

So, do I think the World Fantasy Award should stop using Lovecraft's image? Well, I could be the wrong person to ask. I'm happy to congratulate friends and artists I respect for winning awards because I know it's meaningful to them but personally I'm not a particular fan of awards. Awards are essentially criticism borne of a community to serve a community, to show affection for members of that community who have met with approval by producing works whose quality may or may not have been responsible for their popularity. So the artistic merit of anyone whose likeness is borne by the award may be irrelevant, and if that's irrelevant, I guess you may as well avoid anyone who's a racist. I nominate Jesus.
Tags: gunbuster, horror, hp lovecraft, laura miller, literature, st joshi, top o nerae, world fantasy award, トップをねらえ

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